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Have your say: How can we stop discrimination based on weight? Add to ...

Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.

Calling another kid “fat” or some cruelly creative facsimile is one of the oldest insults in the schoolyard playbook. Like other forms of bullying, it’s mean no matter how it’s intended, it hurts no matter how the recipient responds and it can leave emotional scars no matter how many years have passed.

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We were all told by our mothers that it’s not nice to say such things, yet bias against the obese hasn’t received the same “absolutely inappropriate” label of other forms of prejudice and discrimination. Last year, a British-Australian study found that obese women were more likely to receive a lower starting salary or be turned down for a job altogether than their thinner counterparts, and a recent study in the United States found that overweight graduate-school applicants receive fewer admission offers. More overtly, last month, the U.S. National Scout Jamboree banned obese scouts with a Body Mass Index of 40 or higher, fearing vigorous physical activity might jeopardize their health.

Canadian courts have recognized obesity as a disability in relation to employment by protecting individuals from discrimination under human-rights law “unless there is a bona fide occupational requirement,” according to employment lawyer Stuart Rudner. But York University law professor David Doorey notes that “being overweight or heavy is not the same thing as being obese. People who are discriminated against due to their weight, but who are not obese, have no human-rights law protections.”

Meanwhile, we read that victims of obesity-teasing are more likely to become or remain obese – showing how deeply we can be affected by this lingering form of malice. So how do we go from “not nice” to “not acceptable?”

This week’s question: How can we end teasing and discrimination based on weight?

THE EXPERTS

Miriam Berg, President of the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination

“Prejudice comes from ignorance. People believe propaganda about others who are different – that is, people who are unknown. The remedy is to get to know people who are different, to introduce your kids to other kids who are different, and, if you happen to belong to the “different” category, to get out there and show people that you are strong, capable and lovable.”

Karyn Johnson, creator of plus-size fashion blog KillerKurves.ca

“When I was little I was teased for being overweight, and to an extent I let it control how I felt about myself. Thankfully I realized that you either let bullies consume you, or you can turn your negative experience into something positive. I opted for the latter. Once you own the word fat, it can’t hurt you any more and you will be able to let your positivity shine through and others will see that.”

David Doorey, associate professor of labour and employment law, York University

“Law is not terribly effective at changing negative attitudes and stereotypes. But it’s a tool we use to educate and discourage discrimination on other grounds like race, age and sex. Legislators could easily add 'weight' or 'physical appearance' to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination. This would at least require employers, landlords, and service providers to explain why weight is relevant.”

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